Director Gina Prince-Bythewood brings to Netflix the action blockbuster The Old Guard. The film stars Oscar-winning Charlize Theron as the leader of a group of (almost) immortal mercenaries who suddenly find themselves fighting for their survival.
What’s Going On?
The Old Guard is the story of a group of secretive almost-immortal soldiers who do what they can to make the world a better place. The group is lead by Andy, by far the oldest, seemingly thousands of years old but never quite confirmed, there is also Joe and Nicky, both around a thousand years old and Booker, relatively young at around two hundred. Unsurprisingly being around for centuries makes you pretty good at your job and they are highly sought after but always trying to balance this with the fear their secret may be uncovered – which after taking a job for a former employer it is. As they are found out they also realise a new semi-immortal has come into the world and it is their responsibility to find her. They must confront their greatest fear – not death, but endless imprisonment and torture.
Behind The Scenes
The film is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, a director and writer perhaps best known for the film Love & Basketball as well as various credits writing and directing television, including co-creating recent TV drama Shots Fired. The Old Guard is written by Greg Rucka, the creator of the comic-book series on which the film is based.
In Front Of The Camera
The star of the film is very much Charlize Theron, who as well as being one of the best dramatic actors of her generation has recently made a lot of action films. Theron plays Andy, the leader of the mercenaries, and is very good, carrying much of the film herself. Newcomer to the group and our way into understanding this story is Nile, played by KiKi Layne. Layne is best known for starring in If Beale Street Could Talk and she has the difficult job of explaining the story to the audience and struggling with this earth-shattering knowledge. The rest of the immortal team are made up of Nicky (Luca Marinelli), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts). There are two villains – Copley, ex-CIA agent and former employer of the group played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, looking to use the extraordinary powers of the group to help the world and the far more selfish Merrick played by Harry Melling. Ejiofor is another acting heavyweight and does his best to express the conflicted feelings of someone who has genuinely good intentions but involved in quite unpleasant work. Melling is a far more standard evil baddie – and to save everyone googling this – Melling is probably best known for playing Dudley Dursley in The Harry Potter films. Merrick works for Big Pharma which is shorthand in the film for absolutely untrustworthy and is hoping to rip out the group’s special powers out of them with brutal medical methods.
Does It Work?
The Old Guard is an enjoyable action film with an interesting premise and a great cast. It’s not going to reinvent the genre but it is very good. Theron is utterly convincing as the ancient mercenary soldier with slightly less convincing performances as we go down the cast. Ejiofor never quite manages to sell the disconnect between his noble intentions and committing horrific human rights abuses but I think this is the fault of the film rather than Ejiofor. Indeed, the rationalising of a number of the villains is paper-thin.
The action scenes are first-rate, the most memorable being the plane fight between Andy and Nile near the beginning of the film – when Nile still doesn’t trust the strange woman telling her she’s immortal. They also have fun with the healing abilities of the soldiers – bones jutting out from limbs that heal neatly and head shots that are gone within seconds.
But the film is not built solely on its action and there is more going on with the characters. Andy and Booker are clearly struggling with their near-immortality and the grief and pain that has accumulated and at it times it reminded me of vampire films and the “curse” of immortality. This is especially interesting as Andy and Booker are the oldest and youngest respectively. Then there is Joe and Nicky who manage to get an awful lot of feeling into their relatively limited screen time focused on their relationship. Two men who fell in love whilst fighting – and killing -each other in the Crusades is about as star-crossed a pair of lovers as you are going to get, and a timely declaration of their love is genuinely emotional.
The main problem in the film are the bad guys, it doesn’t help that the role is effectively split between Copley and Merrick (with the addition of one soldier who seems to be the leader of Merrick’s mercenaries but you never consider as dangerous as Andy or her team). Copley is half-hearted in the endeavour whilst Merrick is so utterly ruthless and cruel that he is a bit of pantomime villain. I would much rather have seen Ejiofor play someone along the lines of his unnamed character in Serenity, a supremely effective individual doing admittedly bad things for a greater purpose – a character that I hold as a high watermark of sci-fi villains.
Overall this is a very enjoyable action film with good acting and great fight sequences. There is a very interesting premise which allows it to do something different to most action films and there is an emotional depth many similar films do not have.
Rating: (3.5 / 5)
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